Emma Simmonds, second-year textile student at Loughborough University, and pupil of Jan Shenton (author of the new book on weave design) tells us about her weave degree course and her work experience placements, including in north Spain with Anna Champeney Estudio Textil.
You´re actually studying weave as a university degree at Loughborough. Can you tell us, in a nutshell, what the course consists of. What do you think a degree gives you that unofficial learning doesn´t?
The course I am studying is Textiles: Innovation and Design and is run over three years. The first is an introduction into the three possible specialisms. It is also a chance to practice drawing, design and colour skills.
Our second year is spent learning and practicing our chosen specialism, which could be print, weave or multimedia.
I have taken the woven textile route, and in this year I learnt the entire process of weaving, from drafting, dying and setting up a loom through to weaving and finishing fabrics. We are given the chance to experiment with multiple warps of different threading structures and various yarn types.
After the second year we have the option of taking a year out on industrial placement before returning to university to complete the final year. In this last year we will get the chance to work more independently allowing us to mature our techniques and develop our individual styles. I think one of the benefits of doing a degree course is that it gives you the chance to spend an intense 3 years improving and learning with no boundaries.
You are completely free to develop as an artist and craftsman, giving you time and encouragement that you wouldn’t receive in industry. It’s great to have so many facilities and highly competent tutors at your disposal and is amazing to work beside so many other creative individuals.
If I understand correctly you didn´t decide to specialise in weave until the second year. Why did you decide on weave as opposed to knit or print?
I chose weave because I love the thought of creating a fabric from scratch. As the designer you are in control of every element, from the weight and density of a fabric to its colour, pattern and design. I love all the processes from beginning to end and find it really rewarding when I see the final result. I enjoy the vast possibilities of weave and am fascinated about how much there is to learn about it.
I have found it really exciting and interesting to be learning a skill that is so traditional and so fundamental to different cultures and societies.
You have spent the whole year doing work experience placements. Can you tell us about these and what you think you gained from the experiences?
My placement year has consisted of seven different internships and each one has given me a different and invaluable view of industry and helped my development as a designer. I have worked mainly with woven textile companies but have also had the chance to explore embroidery and theatre too. I have worked with hand weavers, designers and textile mills; each one has given me the opportunity to look at woven textiles from new angle and has led me to begin to think where I fit into it. It has been great to work with people that have set up their own companies.
Collecting first-hand knowledge and experience has been beneficial in teaching me what goes into a successful business.
It has also been so inspiring to meet people that have followed and accomplished their dreams, giving me conviction that with hard work it is possible.
One of your last placements was at Anna Champeney Estudio Textil, a craft textile studio in northwest Spain. Tell us what different tasks you were given. How did the experience contrast with your other placements?
All of the other woven textile designers I have worked for produce their textiles in industrial mills.
So working with Anna was amazing to see that she has made a successful and profitable hand weaving company. I spent the majority of my time with Anna weaving products for her shop but also got to employ my Photoshop skills to help out with the marketing and promotional side.
This placement was very hands on and taught me a lot about weaving. It was great to work with Anna and learn new techniques including traditional Galician Felpa.
I think I gained a lot from her experience as a designer and business woman and its inspiring to see she has been able to maintain the integrity and love of her craft. It was also incredible to spend three weeks in such a beautiful part of the word.
I was so amazed by the scenery and culture of Cristosende and feel lucky to have been able to explore and get to know the quirky little village.
You still have one year to go in your course but you and your fellow students already have an idea about the different options for employment after you finish. What are these and what ideas attract you in particular?
I think it is hard as a woven textile designer to place yourself in industry. I know that I don’t want to work in a big company because I have found out this year that small scale is more to my taste. I would love to start my own company and feel that this year out has equipped me with better knowledge of the running of a business to be able to do so.
I know that I love the practical side of weaving and that is something that I wouldn’t like to lose in the process. My time with Anna has shown me that this is a possibility and she has given me inspiration and advice on how to fund this and make it work.
What would you say to Spanish people who are considering the option of doing a weave degree at Loughborough?
I would say that Loughborough is a brilliant place to study. Our facilities are excellent and we have some really talented and knowledgeable tutors. It is a really thriving and lively art department, with lots to inspire and excite you.
We have ranked fourth in the country for student satisfaction and you can tell by looking around our final year show that Loughborough really pushes it students to reach their full creative potential.
What excites you most about weave?
I love the intelligence and complexity around the design process. I think it’s so exciting to design working with and pushing the possibilities on the loom.
I love the challenge of translating my designs and drawings onto a warp and using my creativity to produce it in fabric.
I like the depth and texture compared with a printed design and am blown away when I see some examples of complex and innovative weaves. It is such a long standing craft with incredibly basic roots yet it can be made modern and contempory.
Thanks for your replies Emma and Textilesnaturales wishes you the best of luck in your third year. Keep in touch!